A couple of releases into Alan Simon now (check for instance this or this). And now we have Big Bang playing. And it is definitely something different compared to those before. Not only from a technical point of view, with the press sheet talking about 120 musicians or 200 active tracks per song on average… Or the inclusion of the sound bank of the universe from NASA.
This is indeed a musical odyssey from the origins of our universe to the destiny of planet Earth. And one that marries classical themes and orchestrations with contemporary music like never before in Simon’s work. As far as I know it that is. With a starring role of Supertramp’s John Helliwell on various saxes. So the instrumental pieces prevail and are a showcase of diversity, atmosphere and feeling. Lingering dreamy melodies, sound scapes and bits of rock interweaving. Like in Seven Moons In the Sky, where Roberto Tiranti delivers the vocals. Or on Fools, with Saga’s Michael Sadler. And Pink Floyd fans will embrace The Soul Of The Stars, with great guitar playing by Paolo Ballardini. Because of the less obvious rock side, at first I wasn’t too sure about this album. But the more I played it, the more I fell for it. Diversity, dynamics and combining genres has always been part of Simon’s music and this is no exception. There is a certain grandeur to the themes that will get you hooked, sooner rather than later. Else you can always look at the fantastic space photography present in the art.
From never having heard of Alan Simon, now on to a second album. The first was his recent released Songwriter double disc, which I enjoyed very much. And since this one is called Excalibur IV, The Dark Age Of The Dragon, we can be pretty sure that there have been Excalibur albums before this (duh).
Not sure if everyone will agree with me, but for me one of the highlights of Simon is the diversity on offer. From folk, to rock, to classical and many in between, you can find a lot of genres on this album. Sometimes even in one song. And while in many cases that would make an album suffer from a lack of focus, this guy produces songs that are able to tell a story, even without words. The fact that all is executed beautifully only helps of course. Just take a look at the guest list: Michael Sadler (Saga), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Moya Brennan (Clannad), Roberto Tiranti (Labyrinth), John Helliwell (Supertramp) or Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep) to name a few! What all these names confirm is the scope of the material.
So a haunting song like Alone can stand firmly besides a more rocking song like for instance Stonehenge. Just like the pop bliss of Calling For You easily sits besides the proggy Don’t Be Afraid or the dreamy and almost opera-esque The Last Lament Of A Fairy.
For me there is no more excuse in trying to find earlier albums. Great stuff, worth checking out if you, like me, have been living under a rock as far as Alan Simon is concerned…
It never seizes to amaze me how much there is to learn about all the music out there. Here I was thinking I had never heard of Alan Simon before, and then it turns out he has been involved in a wealth of albums, rock operas and soundtracks! So maybe you know about the Excalibur releases? I didn’t to be honest, but if this compilation is anything to go by, the man is a songwriter indeed. And in capitals! No wonder he can have people from for instance Supertramp, Midnight Oil, Fairport Convention on board, as well as guests like Alan Parsons, Martin Barre, John Wetton and Justin Hayward, to name a few.
This 40 track double CD is divided in a world & symphonic side and a “British” side. For me, CD 1 is filled to the brim with wonderful music. Indeed a lot of folky melodies and instruments, as well as more classical sounding pieces. But all done with a great sense of atmosphere and emotion. Melancholy runs strong throughout the songs, but that makes it easy to connect. The second CD is more pop and rock oriented I guess. But the quality and melodies remain. All released between 1995 and 2017, but sounding fresh and vibrant. Lots of details, perfectly produced and very varied. Rich in ideas and textures, with a plethora of different instruments, it is a pleasure the keep hitting the play button.
Very impressed by the wonderful collection of material and a trigger to go dig in his back catalogue, I have been missing out! And since Excalibur IV has just been released, again with an impressive cast, I get another chance of finding out more…